Split EPs are generally a win-win situation. You'll often hear about them because you like one of the bands featured on the EP, in which case, it's a chance to hear a bunch more tracks from a band you rather like. And it's usually the case that the other band featured are fairly similar to the band you like, so it's a chance to check out something new for yourself. Unless you already know and like both bands on the EP, in which case, happy days for you.
I was in the former category when I picked up this particular split. Torn Out were one of the first bands I saw and reviewed in the scene, not only proving to me that punk rock can work without walls of amps and distortion pedals, but that acoustic, folk-style music can still be timeless, catchy and powerful in a world where corduroy trousers, grey cloudy skies and maudlin tripe have become the norms. Seriously, anyone who thinks Adele's asinine he-dumped-you-will-you-just-get-over-it whining is worthy of the inexplicable amount of hype, praise and sales she receives needs a copy of Torn Out's self-titled EP played to them very loudly on repeat until they get the point. After a heavy bout of touring and gigging in 2009, 2010 was a quiet year for the Essex boys, but this disc rings in a new era for the band in 2011. Their three tracks start the EP, so after witnessing their return to Gravesend and the circuit a few weeks ago, this looks like a good place to start.
You could make a convincing argument that the three tracks are up there as some of the best work the pair have done. This is the work of a band refusing to sit on it's laurels - they've done the hard work in crafting a sound for themselves, so now comes the even harder part of refining and honing it, taking it in subtly new directions, and keeping it fresh - all of which they've done here. The Torn Out of 2011 remains a passionate, outrageously melodic and socially conscious beast, just like old times, with frontman Smith's gruff, accented vocals driving home his lyrics with the same strength of conviction, but there's a maturity and subtlety to their methods now, and in the place of the blunt directness and hollering of piss-stained streets of yore, there's gorgeous, flowing guitar hooks, campfire singalongs, soulful and emotive lyrical lines just asking to be sang back to the band at gigs, and a few new musical ideas in the mix - for example, the slow-building bridge of 'This Town', and the multi-layered vocals at the climax of 'Slow Down'. Overall, these three tracks are the ideal study of how a band should go about progressing musically - no radical revolution or gimmicky back-to-basics approach, and by the same token, no simple if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it revisionism. This is the sound of a band totally comfortable in their own skin and where they are at this point in time, and it shows.
So now we come to Limited Means, a band I confess to not knowing a whole lot about, but on the face of it they share a lot of similarities with Torn Out: an acoustic duo with a guitarist lead singer and a bassist backing vocalist, singing socially-conscious acoustic punk. Christ, anyone else getting deja vu yet? Well, be silent, nay-sayers, because not only are Limited Means another fine proponent of acoustic punk music, but they stare down Torn Out in head-on competition to be the best band on this split - and you know something? I'm calling it a draw. Their three tracks are that strong. There's a more direct, political bent to their lyrics, especially on 'Detroit', which takes swipes at unemployment levels and inner-city degradation, but it would be unfair to just dismiss them as a pair of politicos with guitars, a sort of new-generation Billy Bragg, because when you have hooks and beautiful melodies as strong as those featured on 'Honest Much', augmented by female backing vocals that send the hairs on the back of one's neck standing to attention, it's easy to see that we're dealing with a truly talented, soulful and strong band, no matter what their emotive lyrics are about.
As I said earlier, split EPs are win-win situations most of the time, and so this EP has proved - not only have we got the strongest material yet from one of the finest bands on the circuit, but we also have a rival for their crown and a new favourite band here at NFTF.
Standout Tracks: 'Slow Down', 'This Town', 'Honest Much'.
Label: None (Unsigned)
Release Date: 1st January 2011.